Posted by: Philip Rushton | June 6, 2011

Telling the Second Half of the Story

This week I’m reading Gaby Lyons book, The Next Christians. This is a follow up book to his original publication titled UnChristian, where he looks at how Christians are perceived in contemporary culture. The first book is rather discouraging. It shows how Christians are often perceived as being judgmental, hypocritical, ignorant, overly political and so on. This follow-up book, however, offers some hope for the future. In The Next Christians Gabe Lyons explains how there is a emerging generation of Christians that are reshaping what it looks like to follow Christ in the modern world.

Lyons does not offer a lot of new information, but his book does help to name and clarify what this next generation of Christians is interested in. His assessment of the emerging generation of Christians resonates with my experience and clarifies what it is that I’m excited about!

At the core of this emerging group of Christians is a desire to tell the whole story of God. The biblical story is usually divided into four major parts – creation, fall, redemption, and restoration (or new creation). Lyons argues that in previous generations the church has mainly been emphasizing only half of this story. We have chopped off the beginning in the end such that the Christian story is understood to be solely about fall and redemption. The story we have told has been about how we have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory but that he has saved us from our sins through his death on the cross.

This of course is very central to what it means to be a Christian but it is missing some very important elements to the Christian faith. We are forgetting that God originally created the world with a purpose. God called his creation “very good.” God made us in his image thereby designing us to be creative, love beauty, live relationally, and seek justice and goodness. We were originally created to live life fully.

We have also failed to communicate the purpose of redemption. Redemption is just the starting point in the Christian life. Redemption is what makes it possible for restoration to occur. As Lyons articulates. “Christ’s death and Resurrection were not only meant to save people from something. He wanted to save Christians to something. God longs to restore his image in them, and let them loose, freeing them to pursue his original dreams for the entire world.” The Christian story is not just about getting your sins forgiven. The Christian story goes beyond that. The story points towards the New Creation where all creation is restored to its intended goodness. This new reality is already starting to break into this world. That is why Christ told us to pray that his kingdom would start to come on earth as it is in heaven.

The implications of recovering this second half of the story radically changes what it means to be a Christian in our world. It means that we are not simply called to be evangelists that get people saved for heaven, we are called to be restorers. We are not simply telling people that they have sinned and that they are forgiven; rather, we are communicating the goodness that Christ has come to restore us to a life of fullness. This opens up new possibilities for cultural engagement. Christians are called to work towards restoration in all spheres of society, whether this be media, education, arts, business, government or the social sector. The body of Christ, then, is not just a big talking head, it actually has arms and legs. The Christian community not only talks about redemption it practically lives out the implications of the gospel in all spheres of society.

I’m excited that this second half of the story is being recovered. It has dominated many of the major Christian publications in recent years. Authors like Dallas Willard, N.T. Wright, Tim Keller, Scot McKnight, Richard Stearns, and Chuck Colson help us in this process of re-narrating our faith.

How might this recovery of the second half of the story impact how you live out your faith in culture?

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Responses

  1. An overly simplistic answer to a very hard question…..get wrapped up in the lives of people that have real needs instead of the comfortable people we enjoy……Peace……

  2. Hey Gil,

    If I hear you right, it sounds like you find the idea of restoration to be too idealistic and triumphalist. If that is what you mean than I understand your frustration. This theme of restoration, and this longing for new creation must face the reality that we still live in a broken world. We will not fully realize the kingdom in the here and now – that is the overconfidence of liberal postmillenialism.

    We still long for a time where Jesus will come in fullness, where every tear will be wiped away. However, what Gaby Lyons and many of the other writers I listed above are trying to argue is that we can start to embody the values of this new reality now. We won’t realize them fully but we can begin to communicate these values through how we seek restoration in the day to day. I like N.T. Wrights image. He says that our attempts at restoration in the world function like sign posts to the new reality that awaits us.

    So when you and Sharon reach out to the needy kids that you do, you may not see a lot of restoration, but those acts of love are communicating the good news of the gospel. They are small acts that point towards the hope of final restoration. Instead of just telling those kids that there sins are forgiven you are showing them love and acceptance through by enfolding them into your lives.

    Thank you for your comments. You are right to test theological ideals against the reality and messiness of working with people who are suffering.

  3. My comment, probably poorly stated , just was intended as an answer to your question “how might this recovery impact look”. We really do agree that living in a restorative manner is God’s intention and brings joy and fullness to our lives. Our frustrations are not with the limited sucess we see, it is with the culture that seems to have little interest in joining God’s great restorative process. And yes, it is very messy sometimes.

    • I would agree with Gil about culture that seems to have little interest in joining God’s great restorative process. It can and does seem like we’re confronting a Goliath, not only in our culture, but sometimes also within the church. But I’m also hopeful that as we become more and more authentic and connected to restoration, we’ll have more credibility with those we are connected with. Thinking about being restorative is refreshing and exciting.

      • I think it is exciting! Gabe Lyons talks about how this approach to cultural engagement opens up a whole host of possibilities for ministry. We no longer have to see cultural engagement as awkward door-to-door sales pitches for Jesus, or militant protests against moral depravity. Outreach means loving people, infusing our workplace with hope, finding creative ways to bring justice and peace in our neighborhoods.

        Lyons talks about how restoration calls us to move from being offended to being provoked to change things. Instead of just being angry with sin and evil, we engage with our world and seek to make changes. He also talks about moving from being a critic to a creator. Instead of just being upset about what’s going on in the world we seek to creatively offer a better way.

  4. Thanks Gil. Sorry I misread your first response. I forgot that I ended the post with that question! I appreciate your thoughts.


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